2013 NCAA Football Preview: American Athletic Conference

August 21, 2013

I apologize for the lie I wrote in my last post…the ACC preview was not the beginning of a stretch of consistently spaced articles on Around The Corn. But this one is. Really.

After reviewing and confirming my class schedule for the current semester, I have come to the conclusion that I will have an ample amount of time on Tuesdays and Thursdays to write engaging articles for you, the readers that have stuck around during the dry spell.

But really, I’m tired of beginning each of my posts with the same message. Let’s just get to the American Athletic Conference preview and try to find a way to make the next eight days pass a little more quickly.


No longer do college football fans have the opportunity to groan and gripe about the Big East receiving an arguably undeserved automatic BCS bid. Now, those fans can groan about the American Athletic Conference receiving an automatic bid to the BCS, but only for one more year. This is probably for the better, because for as weak as the Big East was perceived to be before its ultimate re-branding at the beginning of 2013, it may be even weaker now.

Enter teams such as Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Memphis to battle alongside the juggernauts of South Florida, Connecticut and Temple and you’ve got yourself a pretty top heavy conference, right? Okay, all kidding aside, no one is going to argue that this conference is going to vie with the SEC as the country’s best, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see some pretty good football this season out of the AAC.

Louisville and Cincinnati will keep things interesting from a national perspective, and teams such as Rutgers, USF and UCF all have the ability to pull off a shocker given the right circumstances. The Big East had long been known as a conference that might not have had the best teams in the nation, but consistently produced great battles for the conference crown and almost always kept things interesting on Thursday and Friday nights. That much should remain true in 2013.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid


They say there is a considerable amount of good luck on the side of any national title winning team, but in order to hold up the crystal football at the end of the season, the Louisville Cardinals are going to need more than most. It isn’t winning all its games that is going to be the biggest obstacle to overcome, however. The Cardinals, thanks to Heisman hopeful quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, sharp-minded head coach Charlie Strong and a slew of receivers that will make Bridgewater look even better than he is, are far and away the best team in the AAC.

What may end up haunting Louisville is the same thing that has haunted other talented, undefeated teams whose conference slate is nearly half filled with schools that must distinguish themselves with a direction: perceived strength of schedule. We’re not in the playoff era yet, and as a result Louisville will be rooting for the big boys to go down every week the Cardinals remain unbeaten. If even one team other than the Cardinals makes it through the season without a blemish on its record, Louisville won’t be sitting pretty.

That being said, the Cardinals are the only team in the AAC with a snowball’s chance at making the national title game. Louisville is good, as the nation found out on January 2nd of this year when Coach Strong’s squad went down to Louisiana and slapped the Gators back into Gainesville. But as soon as the upcoming season is underway, that performance becomes about as useful as a dull knife.

Charlie Strong can use all the coach speak he wants about only focusing on his own team’s performance, but in the back of his mind you know there is more going on. The Cardinals have a shot at the big game, but will need help to get there.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Central Florida

The Knights join the AAC after spending the previous eight seasons as part of Conference USA, but don’t expect George O’Leary’s team to struggle the way that Temple did upon joining the Big East in 2012. Central Florida has the best quarterback in the conference not named Teddy Bridgewater in junior Blake Bortles. Bortles has enough leg speed to make you think that he could tuck it and run at any time, but usually doesn’t. The Knights could be one of the more exciting offenses in the country this season thanks to Bortles and his talented receiving corps.

Despite being one of the better defensive teams on an annual basis in Conference USA, it remains to be seen whether Central Florida is up to the task of stopping some of the offenses they will face this season. Teams like Louisville and Cincinnati have size on the offensive line that O’Leary’s players just didn’t see in the past, and now they’ll be expected to compete with them on a regular basis. If UCF fails to live up to my high praising of them, it will be because the defense wasn’t quite up to par in its first year as an AAC member.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Savon Huggins (Jr.), Rutgers running back

It’ll be apparent early on whether Savon Huggins is going to be a workhorse for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights this season, or simply a strong asset to a balanced offensive attack. Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova had trouble with consistency last season, and if that trend continues in 2013, Huggins will be expected to do the majority of the work behind four returning offensive linemen.

Huggins is not a guy who would be coming out of nowhere, really. Two years ago he came in as one of Rutgers’ most anticipated recruits ever, but has been plagued with injuries during his time in Piscataway. Luckily patience and the ability to see holes before they open, rather than raw physical ability that can be compromised due to injury, are his strengths. If he stakes his claim as the feature back, makes defenses change their game plan because of him and ultimately ends up vying for all-conference honors, he’d just be doing exactly what fans thought he would when he arrived as a freshman.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Ohio vs. Louisville (August 31st)

There is the possibility that this game will be Louisville’s toughest test all season. The Bobcats may not be the chic pick as the most likely BCS buster, but they still have a lot of offensive weapons at their disposal. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship are as good a quarterback-tailback tandem as you’ll find outside of the Big Six conferences, and both are in their final campaign as a Bobcat. You can bet that they’ll be ready for this one.

If Ohio’s defensive struggles that plagued them throughout the second half of the 2012 season rear their ugly head again, then this game won’t be all that close. But in the scenario where cornerbacks Jamil Shaw and Travis Carrie shut down Louisville’s wide receivers and make Bridgewater uncomfortable, this is the type of game that could be a lot closer than most people think it will be. Always be careful of overlooking the early season matchups like this one.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Louisville vs. Cincinnati (December 5th)

This game could have a huge impact on the national title game if the Cardinals are still unbeaten. In fact, it may be the game that decides who will be playing in Pasadena. Regardless, this game will likely be the de facto AAC championship game, even if Louisville has already taken itself out of national title contention.

We’ll have a good idea of the quarterback situation at Cincinnati by the time this game rolls around, and that’s important since quarterback play will ultimately decide whether the Bearcats are just an average squad or a team that Louisville really needs to watch out for. Brendon Kay may or may not be the starter at this point in the year, but whoever starts this game will need to do better than Munchie Legaux did when Cincinnati played the Cardinals last season (Leagaux threw 3 interceptions in a 34-31 overtime loss). Poor quarterback play on Cincinnati’s end will almost surely sink its chances of pulling off an upset.

Conference Predictions

1. Louisville (11-1, [7-1])

2. Cincinnati (10-2, [6-2])

3. Central Florida (8-4, [6-2])

4. Southern Methodist (6-6, [5-3])

5. Rutgers (8-4, [5-3])

6. Houston (5-7, [3-5])

7. Connecticut (5-7, [3-5])

8. South Florida (4-8, [2-6])

9. Memphis (4-8, [2-6])

10. Temple (3-9, [0-8])

Questions from the Readers

This is a section dedicated to the readers, where I will answer the questions you have sent me through Facebook, Twitter (@KBecks_ATC) or email (kbecks@aroundthecorn.com). Unfortunately, there were no questions sent regarding the AAC or its teams. Feel free to ask multiple questions, as I will answer any appropriate question that is submitted in time. Thanks guys.

– K. Becks

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